Who hasn't heard of, Joan of Arc, the great Patron Saint of France? The 'Maid of Orleans' who was burnt at the stake aged just 19 years in 1431, has inspired artistic and cultural works throughout the world for six centuries. Statues of her stand all over France, particularly the golden image of Joan of Arc on a horse in the Place des Pyramides in Paris.
Discover more about her and the myths surrounding her at the Historial Jeanne d’Arc in Rouen, set in the old Archbishop's Palace now magnificently restored to its medieval and 18th-century glory.
The Historial Jeanne d’Arc
The French are very good at multi-media, and the Historial is all about immersing yourself in the life and times of Joan of Arc through a whole range of clever devices from static interpretive panels to projections of dramatic scenes onto the walls and panels of the exhibition. Never mind the technology; the result is a fascinating walk through the past in a series of darkened rooms watching films using live actors, looking at stills from those beautiful if stiff medieval scenes, and listening to the dramatized commentary in your own language.
- Allow 75 minutes for the walk through Joan of Arc’s life which is set in 7 different spaces.
1. The Dawn of the 15th Century. You start in the Romanesque Crypt of the old Archbishop’s Palace. France and England are embroiled in the 100 Years War which takes place sporadically from 1337 to 1453 when successive Kings of both countries fight over French soil.
The year is 1420 and the event is the retrial of Joan of Arc. Your guide and narrator is Jean Juvénal des Ursins, whose hologram is your story telling companion throughout. A major figure of the time, Jean Juvénal (1388-1473) was a powerful lawyer and Bishop, first of Beauvais then of Laon, and finally of Reims.
He was an ambiguous character in the life of Joan of Arc, witnessing her trial and death in 1421, and later presiding over the court that rehabilitated her in 1456.
2. The Gothic Crypt and Joan of Arc's early life. She was born in Domrémy, known today as Domrémy-la-Pucelle (Domrémy-of-the-Maiden) in 1412. The tiny village is in the Vosges department in the Grand-Est Region, equidistant between Nancy and one of the ‘Hidden Treasures of Champagne', St Dizier. Three years later in 1415 King Henry V of England invaded northern France and set off the train of events leading to her death. He was crowned King of France but with English and French Kings and heirs dying prematurely, the way is left open for the French to reclaim the throne in the name the Dauphin, Charles VII, the French heir to the throne.
Whether you believe in saints and miracles or not, her’s is an extraordinary tale of an extraordinary young girl who set off from her village in 1429, aged just 17, to persuade powerful men like Robert de Baudricourt to give her a horse and escort to get to the French court. She cut her hair, dressed in men’s clothes and set off on an 11-day journey with the nobleman’s introduction to the future King.
3. The Old Kitchens and Joan's Meeting with the King. Here Jean Juvénal recounts Joan's meeting with the Dauphin Charles in 1429 when she was just 17; the various tests that the clergy put her through to establish her authenticity, and the time she was made a knight by the King in Tours.
4. The Old Pantry and Joan as Military Leader. This shows you what this young woman was capable of. Charles gave Joan armour and sent her off with the army to the Loire Valley and Orléans, which was besieged by the English. For 5 days the army fought with Joan leading one assault while injured. Victory over the English in Orléans was followed by the crowning of King Charles VII on July 18, 1429 with Joan prominent at the ceremonies. But sweet victory did not last; Joan was sent to Compiègne in Picardy to fight the Burgundians, the French allies of the English.
Thrown from her horse, she was captured by the Burgundians who negotiated with the English. A captive Joan of Arc was a valuable tool for the English; it cost them 10,000 francs.
The French King distanced himself; the English turned her over to church officials for trial as a heretic, accused of witchcraft, heresy and dressing like a man. She was held in a military prison and threatened with torture. The tribunal interrogated here a dozen times but she didn't break.
5. The Attic and the Trial. Go up the 15th-century Cardinal d’Estouteville staircase to the attic for the trial which is depicted on a circular panorama with actors playing the characters who stood in judgement. Joan is sentenced to death. The next day, May 30, 1431, she was taken out and burnt at the stake on the place du Vieux Marché in the centre of Rouen. This over, the shutters are flung open and the windows reveal a fabulous view over Rouen.
6. The Attic where Joan was forgiven - too late. There is one last chapter to tell, in the final small attic. Jean Juvénal is here for the rehabilitation of Joan of Arc. On July 7, 1456, he presided over a trial ordered by the man who had turned his back on the Maid of Orleans some 25 years before. Now was a politically convenient time for King Charles VII to take the kudos for forgiving a woman who was rapidly becoming one of the most revered person in France. 115 witnesses at the rehabilitation trial adorn the walls along with the story of how Charles VII went from Dauphin to King.
There’s another great view from this watchtower, the Tour de Guet before you walk down the 15th-century Luxembourg staircase.
The Mythothèque - From Memory to Myth
More high tech wizardry has been applied to the three rooms that look at the myths about Jeanne d'Arc that have become part of French culture.
The first of the three rooms is filled with advertising and propaganda posters; and watch a film showing how the myths developed, how the politics produced a distorted view of the heroine, and how artists have depicted her.
A space dedicated to historical research gives you the chance to choose questions to put to four historians.
The last room is a ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’, reproductions of works of art and all manner of objects produced on the ever fascinating Maid of Orleans.
More about Jeanne d'Arc in Rouen
Rouen, capital of Normandy, is full of Jeanne d'Arc sites. You can see the dungeon on Bourveuil street which is the only surviving part of the castle where Jeanne d'Arc was imprisoned.
There's a large cross on the Vieux-Marché square marking the spot where Jeanne d'Arc was burnt to death. It stands opposite the modern Jeanne d'Arc church, with its statue outside. The church's roof is designed to look like the flames of the fire and the stained glass windows date from the Renaissance.
Historial Jeanne d’Arc
7 rue Saint-romain
Open: June 1-Sep 30: Tues, Wed, Thurs, Sun: 9.45am-7.45pm
Fri, Sat: 9,45am-8.45pm
October 1-May 31: Tues-Sun 9.45am-7.45pm
Admission: Adult €9.50; Reduced: €6.50
Audio guide gives you a tour in four different languages
Rouen Tourist Office
25 place de la Cathédrale
Tel.: 00 33 (0)02 32 08 32 40